Today’s guest post — the first ever — is from blogger Meagan Francis. I will still have a post about the Responsibility Project trip to Ellis Island for you, but I need to check a few facts. Just because I work over the weekend, I do not expect Liberty Mutual‘s PR agency to do so. Instead, I’m changing up the order and running Meagan’s post today.
Meagan Francis is a magazine writer, parenting author, and mom blogger. She blogs about life, motherhood, and the pursuit of happiness at The Happiest Mom, and her book The Happiest Mom: Ten Secrets To Enjoying Parenthood will be published in 2011. Some of her best friends are marketing professionals.
This was my fourth BlogHer conference, and overall, I had a wonderful time. This year I thought the sponsors were handled in a tasteful way and I commend BlogHer for taking feedback to heart and toning down the “over-sponsored” feel that some experienced in 2009. I think BlogHer, as an organization, did a great job this year and I don’t have any complaints with how they handled the Expo areas.
Buuut…while most of the companies I encountered seemed to have an appropriate and effective presence on the Expo floor, there were a few experiences that left me shaking my head (and running for the door). Here’s what happened:
When I approached a booth belonging to a natural baby products company, I was already in a bit of a daze. I’d just left another stall in which a young man with all the finesse of a drunken 20-year-old hoping to score on Spring Break had slap-chop-surprised me into spinning a wheel, answering questions about a product I know little about and have never used; accepting some Post-It notes as a prize, and then having my photo taken with said company’s logo–all within a minute’s time. As I collected my photo and staggered away, still not exactly sure what had just happened, he boasted to the young woman sharing his booth: “See? It’s all in the presentation.”
At this point, I had one goal: to get the hell off the BlogHer Expo floor. Free samples, coupons, and chats with company reps can be fantastic and fun, but my experience with this guy had sent me running for the door…if I could just find it. On my way out, though, I decided to make one more stop at this booth. I use natural and organic products whenever possible, and with five kids I figured it was a company I’d like to know a little more about.
I approached the booth, which was staffed by a man and a woman—the “pitch” man and a female pediatrician acting as a spokesperson. There were already two women standing in front of the man, who was giving a presentation of the company’s uncommonly strong baby wipes.
“See?” he said, pulling hard on both sides. “It doesn’t come apart when you wipe.” He forcefully shoved a finger through the wipe, and it tore slightly. “I worked out today, or else I’d never have been able to rip it.”
The women responded with enthusiastic murmurs. “Oh, my husband would love this,” one exclaimed. “He always hates changing poopy diapers because the wipes fall apart.”
“Me, too!” agreed the pitch man. “That doesn’t happen with these, though. There’s no seepage, either.” They continued to chat, extolling the virtues of the nearly indestructible butt-wipers, for a few more minutes. Finally, he handed the women a package of wipes and they walked away.
I stood there for a few more minutes, examining a product label, but still very much at the booth…maybe two feet away from the man.
“Did you really work out this morning?” asked the female rep.
“No,” snorted the man. “I don’t even have kids. I’ve never changed a diaper in my life, and I never will.”
He began to yammer on about his father and how his father had never changed a diaper, and his girlfriend hopes to have kids one day and he plans on carrying on the family tradition of men never changing diapers but he isn’t sure his girlfriend will go for it, and the whole time I’m thinking, “Um, hey, dude. I’m STILL RIGHT HERE.”
After I walked away from the booth—and made a beeline for the exit—I thought a lot more about the experience. I wasn’t angry, or offended, exactly. Hey, the rep had probably been trained in exactly what to do and say, and it wouldn’t be the first time I’d been underestimated by some smarmy young fella.
But I was amazed that companies had really put these people in charge of representing their brand—in some cases, maybe as a first impression—to thousands of potential consumers…and that they’d chosen such a corny way to do it, too. Instead of setting up a situation in which I could have a real conversation about the product with somebody educated enough to give me the scoop, I played a silly game at one booth, and got a tutorial on baby wipes with somebody who’s never used one at another.
In the case of the spin-the-wheel game: I’ve been doing that at the county fair for decades, and it wasn’t any more impressive then than it is now. A coupon for a product I don’t know or care anything about? Some Post-Its? Is there any proof that this kind of marketing actually works? I know that a coupon for a product I’ve never used—with no other context or education about the product–is not likely to make me try it. And when you’re being showered with coupons from every company at the expo, it’s certainly not enough to convince me to blog about it, either.
And at the natural baby products booth…the guy they hired to run the booth doesn’t even have kids? Has no real-life experience with the product? And is kind of a jackass, to boot?
I’m certainly not going to boycott either of these products. I don’t think any less of them then I did before. But I’m also not any more likely to buy them, which you would think would kind of be the point of renting the space and hiring the help in the first place. Last I knew there were 2,400 attendees at BlogHer. Most of them blog, some on small platforms, some with audiences of hundreds of thousands. Beyond that, there’s Twitter, Facebook, PTA, and the bleachers at the local soccer game. Women talk about the products we use and love, and not just on the Internet, either.
Can you say “wasted opportunity”?
It seems to me that they’d have been better off hiring a parent (maybe even a parent blogger?), or an existing, enthusiastic customer to run the booth. Instead of games and trickery, why not just have a conversation? Let me taste or smell or touch the product, or try the service. I don’t need more samples to take home, and for God’s sake, I don’t need a 50-cents-off coupon. Just teach me a little. Tell me why I should try it when I get home.
Many of the companies on the BlogHer expo floor did a great job of this. But there were a few major, obnoxious flops. And the unfortunate thing for all those companies that got it right? The bad eggs sent me—and I’m sure not just me—running for the door.
And I didn’t return.